Hello everyone! I’m delighted to be sharing an extract today from the Ocelot Press Book of the Month, The Corsican Widow, from Vanessa Couchman. Over to you, Vanessa…
The Corsican Widow is my second novel, set mainly on the Mediterranean island of Corsica and partly in Marseille. The backdrop is the turbulent second half of the 18th century, when Corsica was struggling for independence from Genoa. Against this background, a young woman, Valeria Peretti, must marry an older man whom she has met only once, according to her family’s wishes. Arranged marriages were quite common in Corsica at this time. This scene describes their wedding and an encounter afterwards that will have serious repercussions for Valeria later on.
Valeria took Santucci’s outstretched arm. Her legs shook when they climbed the short flight of steps. Mother took Pietro’s arm and Antone came after. A group of people straggled behind; Zaronza village folk, Valeria presumed. Santucci didn’t seem to have any relatives, or none he thought fit to invite. The church was dark inside, except for some candles dotted about, and smelt musty. She and Santucci knelt in front of the massive marble altar, and the priest read the marriage service. Valeria’s mind wandered back to her last sight of Margherita [an elderly friend], and her throat closed up. The priest was addressing her, so she blinked and tried to pay attention. A hollow gaped in place of her stomach, and numbness surrounded her heart. To stop the tears rising, she focused on the altar and pressed her knees hard into the stone.
At last it was over, and Santucci kissed her. Now she was a wife. They made their way up the aisle to the church door under the gaze of her family and the assembled villagers. When she walked past Antone [Valeria’s brother], Valeria glanced at him. He bit his lip and looked straight ahead.
They emerged from the church and paused outside the door. At first, Valeria was blinded by the sun after the dim interior. She blinked. A small group of men, fierce and unsmiling, stood apart from the rest of the onlookers. They were dressed in coarse sheepskin jerkins, and all wore formless woollen caps, even though the sun beat down. Each man carried a gun slung over his shoulder.
“Who are those men?” Valeria said to Santucci.
“Shepherds. They’ve come down from the mountains to celebrate our wedding. I expect they’ve brought a present of cheese for the bride.” He pressed her hand and smiled.
Valeria scanned the cluster of shepherds. They all looked similar, rough-haired and bearded, tanned and wizened from exposure to the sun and the wind, except for one who stood a head above the rest. He also wore a beard, but it was of a neater trim than the others’. A scar ran from the corner of his eye towards his mouth. The other thing that marked him out was his eyes; they were deep blue, almost violet. She had never seen eyes of such power before. Troubled, she fixed her regard on the landscape across the bay, but something drew her back and she sought out the tall shepherd again. As soon as she met his gaze, he lowered his eyes and removed his woollen cap. The others did the same.
Taking Santucci’s outstretched arm again, Valeria descended the steps of the church and he guided her towards the square and his house beyond. He nodded when he passed the shepherds. Valeria kept her gaze averted, although her heightened senses were aware of the man with the blue eyes. Her breath caught, and she stumbled on an uneven cobblestone.
“Are you feeling ill, Valeria? Is it the heat?” Santucci said. His grip on her arm tightened.
“No. I’m sorry. I’m not used to these shoes. Don’t worry, I’m not ill.”
Valeria smiled at him, conscious all the time of their audience, and of one in particular. She turned her back on the church and the men.
The Corsican Widow is available in Kindle and paperback editions from Amazon. It is also available in paperback from many bookstores and online retailers, including Bookshop org, Barnes & Noble and The Book Depository.
The Tales of Corsica series are standalone novels set in the same house on the island: The Corsican Widow (18th century) and The House at Zaronza (early 20th century) are published so far.
Vanessa is also writing a trilogy set in France between 1880 and 1945.
Sign up to Vanessa’s monthly newsletter for book news, background info about France and Corsica and book recommendations and get two free Corsica stories.
Amazon author page: http://author.to/VanessaCouchman
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/vanessacouchman.author/